Category Archives: Neighborhood

Monday, the Eighth of October

Neighborly Thoughts

Here’s a little slide show of my neighborhood for you to peep at if you’re so inclined. I’ll meet you at the end for an explanation…

My neighborhood, over on the West Side in Sioux City, has long felt neglected by the city government as well as by law enforcement. It’s not a bad neighborhood, per se, but there are problems that need dealt with. (Note, most of the woes in the photos above have been fixed, but new woes continually pop up.)

A few days ago I attended a seminar. There were three speakers, all talking about how they and their companies foster growth in the community.

The first lady, a representative of the Chamber of Commerce, spoke in glowing terms about how much money was being funneled into the area by new business and how bright the future looks (referring to an oil refinery that may be built right across the river in neighboring South Dakota). “Sioux City is growing,” she said, excitement in her voice. “We even have an Olive Garden now!”

The next speaker was from Midwest Energy, the local power company. He spoke about how they try to keep their costs down in order to get new business to come to the region. He seemed very pleased that his company was able to provide Google with enough low-cost power that they chose to build a new server farm (or something) in Council Bluffs, 90 miles south of here, right next to the new coal plant they opened. (It came up later that Sioux City didn’t get the bid for the Google plant because energy HERE costs too much.) Someone asked him about wind energy — specifically how they get the land to put their wind turbines on. “We lease the land from the farmers,” he said. This is a direct quote: “It’s a fifty-year lease, so some of the farmers are reluctant to let us build. We prefer to build coal plants; if the farmers don’t want to sell us the land for a coal plant we can just have the area condemned and given to us.”

The third speaker was a local banker. He spoke for forty-five minutes about how his bank is reluctant to give loans to start-up companies, and how you need to “develop a stable, long-term relationship” with your banker. He basically told us that his bank would NOT give a new company a loan unless the applicant had an equal amount of money in his or her personal bank account as collateral. “What good is it for us to repossess a factory full of, say, pipes?” he said. “If you can’t make your loan payment, we want cash money, not pipes.”

I wondered what these people were getting at. A lady who thinks Olive Garden is the wave of the future, a power company arrogant enough to say in public they steal land from farmers, and a banker who won’t give loans until you’re established. The tenor of the seminar was very upbeat, very positive. “Sioux City is moving forward! We’re growing!” People clapped a lot and nodded their heads. When asked how we’d rate the attitude of Sioux City on a scale from one to ten, most everyone said seven or eight. I hollered “Try a three, maybe.” The lady next to me whispered “look at them — they come from the rich part of town, no wonder they’re so happy about everything.”

It got me started thinking, again, about the plight and blight in my neighborhood. What were these people seeing that made them have such a positive attitude about the city? What was I seeing that was different?

I guess I was seeing homeless people. I’m so used to seeing trash, graffiti, homeless people and general grunginess in my neighborhood that I forget that some neighborhoods DON’T have that stuff. We have three gangs in my neighborhood, all vying for attention via spray paint and bullets. People have learned that the adage “work hard and you’ll get ahead” only pertains to other people. What happens in our neighborhood is that we work hard only to see our taxes go up while property taxes in the richer parts of town are cut. “We need those people to move here,” one official told me after the seminar. “We want that kind of people living here, so we have to give them a tax break or they’ll move somewhere else.” I asked him how “those people” would make a living if there were no workers in their fancy manufacturing plants. He didn’t have an answer.

Every day I hear things like, “I try to sell my paintings here in Sioux City, but no one here will buy them. I have to sell them to people on the coasts, but that means I lose half my profit in shipping costs. The funny part is that the people here buy similar artwork for twice the money I’m charging, but they have to have it painted by someone far away.” I know when I played in bands we could play in Sioux Falls or Omaha for $1,200 a night, or we could play locally for $300 a weekend. No one here would pay us. People talk about the expanding job market. Wonderful! Can I have one of those new high-paying jobs? I’ve got a degree and over 15 years experience in my field… What? The new high-paying jobs pay eight dollars an hour? Oh. The packing plants pay more than that. Heck, McDonald’s pays more than that.

Businesses in the neighborhood are leaving. There are abandoned and empty buildings all over the place. I saw the neighbor guy walking home with a McDonald’s bag in his hand. We chatted for a few minutes, and he mentioned he really wished he could get a good meal. “What’s that?” I asked. He waved the bag in the air. “This is crap,” he said, “but I don’t have a car — I can’t get to the grocery store. I can walk to McDonald’s.” He works at the local flea market. Being disabled, it’s the only job he can get.

In any case, these are complex, complicated issues that have no easy answers. But these issues do exist, and they’re not going away.

I think it surprised a few people at the seminar when I stood up and told them that their rosy scenario of Sioux City was all peaches and cream, “but there’s still a homeless guy sleeping in my alley, and we need to do something to help him.”

We need to dream big dreams and reach for the stars. We just need to remember to pause now and then to reach down and give the next guy a helping hand.

If you’re reading this on Facebook, you can see the original blog at, click on “Blog.”

A few odd stories…

The Great Garbage Saga

“We can only fit three garbage bags in our can,” I told my beloved Austrian Snickerdoodle. “What do you think we should do with the other twenty-seven bags?” We stood, looking at the thirty bags of trash on our porch.

“I don’t know,” came the reply. “I called the garbage people. Dey von’t take it, even if we put those little yellow tags on the bags. Dey said ve have to take them to the dump ourselves. Dat costs twenty-eight dollars.” In unison we looked at our poor little car. “Ve could get it done in, oh, fifteen trips or so…”

Spring cleaning shouldn’t be so difficult, even if you delay it until December… Dagmar had gone through our house from top to bottom, taking the week between Christmas and New Years off work. Our motto was “if we forgot we had it, we don’t need it,” coupled with the mantra of “if we haven’t used it, worn it, played it, or seen it in a year, toss it out.” She hauled bags of clothes to the Gospel Mission (I’m not getting any smaller, you know — I’m never gonna get into those pants again). We took stuff to the Goodwill. She emptied closets. But what to do with those thirty bags of trash?

“Ve could call the dumpster people, maybe, and have them bring a dumpster over like they did for dat house up the street,” suggested the lovely Dagmar with a sigh. “I don’t know how much dat costs. That way we could just put our garbage in it und be done.”

I pondered that thought for a minute. “I have an idea,” I said. “Instead of giving the money to some big nameless company, why don’t we keep it in the neighborhood?” My wife cocked an eyebrow at me. I continued, “The neighbor guy over there has a big truck, and doesn’t seem to have a job… Maybe we could just give him some money to haul our stuff to the dump?”

“Dat’s a vunderful idea!” my wife cried, hugging me fiercely. “You’re a vunderful man to think of such an idea!” I glowed with pleasure.

About that time, whilst still glowing, we saw a couple homeless guys heading up the street towards the can redemption center, a bag of cans hanging on the back of the one guy’s wheelchair. “One bag down,” cried my wife. She ran into the house, reappearing seconds later with a large bag of empty soda cans. “Five years I’ve been saving our cans in the back porch,” she said, handing the bag to me. “Let’s give them to those guys.” Without waiting for an answer she ran up the street to stop the two can collectors. I grabbed the bag and followed. By the time I caught up with them Dagmar had explained to the guys that since it was the day after Christmas we were giving our cans away and that they could have them all. “Man, we really appreciate it,” said one guy. “Thank you! We can really use this money!” The guy in the wheelchair started reciting poetry to my wife for some reason. It looked like it was going to be a rather longish poem, so I went over to knock on “truck neighbor’s” door to see if he’d be interested.

Sadly enough, they didn’t even have a doorknob on their door – the door was tied shut with twine.

No one answered, and it looked like the poem in the street was winding down, so I rejoined my wife. We watched the guys carry the cans up the street to the redemption center, a rosy glow settling over us. “Did you talk to truck man?” asked my vife. I shook my head. “No one answered.” We started walking back to our house. “I have to go to work now,” I said. “I’m late already…”

“Oh, okay,” said Dagmar. “You go to verk. I’ll talk to the neighbor about the truck. It costs nearly thirty dollars to take the stuff to the dump. Do you think ve should give him forty dollars for himself? That’s seventy, total.” I nodded agreeably. It seemed like a lot of money just to get rid of garbage, but it’s for a good cause. I’m sure the neighbor needed the money.

Twenty minutes later I was at work pecking morosely at my keyboard wondering just when my job started sucking audibly when my cell phone rang. “De guy says he can do it,” said my vife. “He’ll pick all the bags up tomorrow at eight in the morning and take them to the dump.” (My buddy Drew at work [see photo] looked up when my cell rang. When I was done talking to Dagmar, he asked, “Why’s she calling at this time of day?” I explained that she had the entire week off work and was staying home. “Oh,” he said. “So you’ll be in and out all week, then, too.” He was right.)

At seven-fifty the next morning, Dagmar and I were up and scrubbed and clothed and ready to face the day. “I vant you to follow him to the dump,” said my Austrian Snowflake. “I have a bad feeling that he might just dump our garbage under the bridge or something.”

“That’s silly,” I said. “We have to trust the man. We’re giving him money to take our stuff to the dump, he’ll take our stuff to the dump. We can’t go through life mistrusting people all the time… Besides, I have to be at work.”

“I have a bad feeling about this,” my wife repeated. About that time we saw the guy with the truck pull up in front of our house. Within ten minutes we had his truck loaded with garbage bags, he had his seventy dollars, and Dagmar had repeated the instructions to the man several times.

“Well,” I said, watching the man in the truck drive away, “I’m off to work.” I kissed my beloved on the nose and scuttled off to face the pain of hourly wage-earning. By eight-thirty I was once again pecking morosely at my keyboard, wondering when I made this particular career choice and why.

At nine my cell phone tweedled. Dagmar. “Hello, Honey-Bee,” I said. “What’s up.”

“I VANT YOU TO FIX THIS MESS!” hissed my normally sane wife.

“What mess?” I asked, irritated to be bothered at work.

“That MAN you hired took OUR garbage und dumped it in the dumpster up the street!”

“Okayyyy…” I said. “So, he didn’t go to the dump?”

“NO HE DID NOT GO TO THE DUMP! I told you this morning I had a bad feeling about this, but NOOOO, you said ‘we have to trust people.’ Und so now OUR garbage is out there where just anyone can see it, und this is YOUR FAULT! That man took our money and dumped our garbage illegally.”

“How do you know it’s our garbage in the dumpster?” I mumbled into the phone, trying to avoid eye contact with my boss, who was peeking curiously through the door at me. “After all, black plastic garbage bags all look the same, pretty much, more or less.”

“I drove by that dumpster this morning und it vas empty,” my wife wailed. “But now there are about thirty black garbage bags in there. It’s our garbage, I know it is! Now, COME HOME UND FIX THIS MESS!”

“But Snickerdoodle,” I whined. “I’m at work.”


I clicked my phone shut, looked at my buddy Drew, and said, “It was my wife. I have to go home now.” He gave me a knowing look. “Good luck, man.”

On the way out the door, I paused to look up the phone number of the dumpster people. I called ’em. “Hi,” I said. “My name is Chris, and I have a problem…”

The nice lady at the dumpster company said, “I’m sorry to hear that you have a problem. You do know that we’re garbage people, not doctors…?”

“I know,” I said. “I have a garbage problem. We gave our neighbor guy seventy bucks to haul our garbage to the dump, but he dumped it in our other neighbor’s dumpster instead. Is that legal?”

“No,” the nice lady said. “Someone’s gonna have to get the garbage out of the dumpster…” By that time I was pulling into my driveway (I live a whole five blocks from work). I thanked the nice lady and hung up. My wife had her heavy coat on and was busily stomping her way up the sidewalk towards the neighbor’s house. I got out of the car and fell in line behind her.

“What are we going to do?” I wheezed, struggling to keep up with her.

We are going to do nothing,” she replied. “YOU are going to fix this mess. I vant you to get that man to get our garbage out of that dumpster and take it to the dump, und I vant you to follow him this time like I said before!” She grabbed my arm and dragged me up the street. As we approached Truck Man’s house, the door opened and his wife and daughter came out.

“Vhere is your husband?” asked my wife. “Ve gave him good money to take our stuff to the dump and all he did was throw it in this other guy’s dumpster. Vhere is he?”

“I didn’t have nothin’ to do with it,” the lady said. “He’s at the bar.”

My wife turned and made a beeline for the bar (see photo), two houses down the street, steam coming out her nostrils. “I’ll get him,” she growled.

My beloved, gentle wife then proceeded to go into the bar (at nine-thirty in the morning), holler at this guy in front of everyone, then pretty much grabbed him by the ear and dragged him out into the street, hollering at him the whole way. “Ve gave you good money to do this job,” she said, “und you threw all our garbage right here where all sorts of people can paw through it und you kept the thirty dollars for the man at the dump — you should be ashamed!” She cast me a venomous glance, fire shooting out of her eyes. “Und YOU — quit giggling!” I quit.

Within fifteen seconds, Truck Man had his truck backed up to the dumpster and was climbing around in the garbage, pulling our bags out and tossing them into the truck. Dagmar was headed back to our house to get our car so we could follow him to the dump. I was standing there, feeling kind of silly… I wanted to help the guy, but I didn’t want to get hollered at. Dagmar pulled up with the car, so I got in. I could see in the rear-view mirror that the guy was almost done.

“Okay, I think that’s it,” said Truck Man, leaning over so he could talk through my wife’s window. “I’ve got all the garbage back in my truck. You guys can go now.”

“Oh, no,” said my wife. “We’re going to watch you take it to the dump!”

Truck Man sighed, then went back to his truck and started fumbling around with a tarp. Once he got the tarp on, he gave us a cheerful wave and started walking towards his house.

“Vhat are you doing?” my wife yelled out the car window. “You have to go to the dump!”

“Oh,” the man replied. “You wanted to follow me to the dump NOW? I see…” He got into his truck, and off we went. Half an hour later, Dagmar and I peered through the windshield as Truck Man disappeared off into the City Dump with our garbage.

So… My brilliant idea of “keeping the money in the neighborhood” cost me seventy bucks AND three hours of lost work. Go figger. But the garbage is now gone and my wife is again happy. I am sad, though, that Sioux City’s garbage collectors will only take one single garbage can’s worth of garbage, and there’s no alternative way of getting trash out of your house other than hiring someone to take it to the dump, which is, I thought, what we were paying the garbage collectors to do in the first place… Seems there ought to be a way you can pay the city ten bucks or something to have them haul away a few more bags of trash.

New Years Eve

When did I get old? We were going to go to the Legion Club in LeMars for their steak fry on New Years Eve, but the weather was kinda icky, so we stayed pretty close to home. We had a good time at our friend’s house, then we had a good time watching a band play at the local bowling alley, then we went home. New Years Eve, I was home by 11:30.

How sad.

So, to celebrate the new year, I fried up a couple small steaks. Dagmar danced barefoot in the snow at midnight while her mother sang The Viennese Waltz to her over the phone. Really, she did. I took a picture. You can click on it and see a larger version.

We ate our steaks, watched a re-run of Hee-Haw, and went to bed.

You know, I kinda liked it that way… For the last ten or fifteen years I’ve always been IN the band that’s playing on New Years Eve. It’s rare that I get to be on the other side of things – able to leave when I want to leave, go where I want to go.

Too bad I wanted to leave soon and go home. Oh well.

If you’re reading this on Facebook, you can see the original blog at, click on “Blog.”